Blighted by violence, voter apathy and party boycott in some cases, the local council elections that were held in most states of the federation on March 27 bear the hall mark of a farce ”. ( The Guardian, April 8, 2004).In his interview with then CNN’s Christine Amanpor, last year, President Goodluck Jonathan submitted that his most important goals were conduct of a credible (free and fair) election and provision of power ( electricity). If you are someone living in the Western world-one of the advanced democracies like the United States and Great Britain, and far removed from the Nigerian experience, you might think that what the Nigerian President chose to do were the easiest of all tasks. On the contrary, those are the toughest of tasks any Nigerian leader could embark upon. President Jonathan during the said interview seemed worried if not haunted by the long history of scandalously flawed elections in Nigeria, including the one that returned him as vice president and then president in 2007.
Getting electricity to light up Nigerian homes, even the big cities, has been one of the most daunting tasks facing any Nigerian president. You might have heard of the dark continent but the Nigerian electricity crisis is so bad that it would be apt to call it the dark country. Electricity supply in Nigeria has been at best erratic. And there is this story that government efforts at lightening up Nigeria have been consistently sabotaged by special interests, some of whom are reportedly inside the government. We hear of generating plants contractors who sabotage government efforts . They are further reported to have been bribing government officials, the ruling party’s bigwigs with generating plants, to ensure that they have electricity while their neighbors live in darkness. And as it is with anything Nigerian, electricity generation ventures have provided a conduit pipe through which hundreds of billions of Naira have been salted away by government officials and fraudulent contractors. And the darkness goes on in Nigeria.
Of course, what they call general elections in Nigeria and indeed, most of the Third world, are a comical farce. Usually, the ruling party headed by a Stone Age dictator perpetuates itself in power by staging mock elections, where the outcomes of such fraudulent exercises are predetermined in favor of the office holders. The voting populations are denied their civil right. of exercising the freedom of choice while opposition politicians and civil society groups are cowed into submission by unleashing unspeakable violence on them. Whether it is Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, or Obasanjo’s Nigeria or Paul Kagame’s Rwanda , the story is the same. The late Environmental and Minority rights activist, Ken Saro Wiwa , aptly described the situation as “ organized banditry that goes in the name of government”. Yes, they loot the public treasury and murder whoever has the audacity to question them.
The West and the rest of the civilized world have always lowered the bar when it comes to defining democracy in Africa. However, no matter how much the bar is lowered what is being operated today in most of Africa in the name of democracy are no more than glorified dictatorships.
Perhaps no other place is this bastardization of the democratic process being depicted than Africa’s giant headache called Nigeria. On paper, it is a multiparty “democracy”. I understand there are some 40 registered political parties in the country. But in reality, what is being operated there is a one party dictatorship, where a behemoth ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), rigs out all other parties and forms the government at all levels.
A sample of this election robbery is what transpired last year in the local government election in Imo State, where the ruling PDP was said to have won the chairmanship positions in all of the 27 LGAs in the state and, 303 out of the 305 councillorship seats. All 19 remaining political parties that participated in the election could not win even a chairmanship seat.! Yes, this is how the ruling party “wins” elections in Nigeria. That is Nigerian “ democracy” for you. And the governor of the state toasted his party’s election “victory” this way :“ My impression about the election is good. At times I give Almighty God the glory. Having toured most of the local governments, I had not seen the kind of mobilization done in the communities. You can see that people, both young and old trooped out in their large numbers to vote the candidate of their choice”. This is flat out lie !. Look at the media report of the same election: “ Although the early morning rains affected the distribution of the electoral materials , most of the polling booths experienced voters’ apathy as most of the voters stayed indoors”. The opposition political parties even went ahead to make more startling allegations. The Vice Chairman ( South East) of the APGA, Chief Chris Ejikeme Uche, and the state chairman of the party, Prince Cletus Nwaka, observed that their candidates were not allowed into the voting booths in various local governments where voting took place at all. In Oguta, they reported that APGA chairmanship candidate was locked up on the instruction of the PDP stalwarts there by preventing him from presenting himself for the election”. ( ThisDay, August 09, 2010). If you are far removed from the scene, not used to how “elections” are “won” in Nigeria or you are from one of the civilized democracies , you would think that these reports are a fairly tales. But they are very real and very familiar Nigerian stories.
But if you think these are old stories then, what transpired during the PDP primaries for legislative seats-the Senate, House of Representatives, state Houses of Assembly is enough to remind you of just how nothing has changed and what is in store for you come April. The state governors whom I have identified as the greatest threat to democracy in Nigeria , simply loaded everywhere with their boys. They even rigged out the president’s boys in the primaries. This is a bad omen for Nigeria.
The state governors, have the wherewithal for election rigging-uncontrollable amounts of cash at their disposal, security apparatus and the instruments of violence.
President Goodluck Jonathan looks every inch a good nurtured gentleman. However, Nigeria at this time do not need just a gentleman president but also a leader who is ruthlessly brutal in taking on the bad guys. It is not enough for President Jonathan to be seen as a gentleman. Those around him must reflect his character. He cannot continue to recycle those corrupt Obasanjo era state governors into his administration and expect to be seen as a reformer. President Jonathan should be able to exorcise the ghost of what Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka called “ nest of killers” in his ruling PDP. On top of the sundry criminal gangs that overrun the country in recent times-kidnappers, old-fashioned armed robbers, the PDP buccaneers, desperate to be in a vantage position to loot the national treasury, are upping the ante of politically motivated killings. They are turning the country into one giant graveyard . As you read this piece no less than three local government chairmanship candidates have been assassinated in the Ogoni area of Rivers State. The same blood game is playing out across the country.
Also, the president must not be seen as being weak by his seemingly slow or lack of response to the vesting issue of insecurity that is spiraling out of control in the country. Foreign Policy magazine in its July /August 2010 issue listed Nigeria in the 14 th position on the failed states scale. As if that was not bad enough, NewsWeek magazine in a survey, around the same period, August 23&30 2010 listed Nigeria as the 99 th ( out of 100) behind Pakistan ( 89) country of choice in the world. According to NewsWeek, the question that was used to determine the ranking was : If you were born today, which country would provide you the very : BEST OPPORTUNITY to live a healthy, safe, reasonable, prosperous,and upwardly mobile life?
Again, the towering influence of the state governors stems from the volumes of cash they control as chief executives of their states. They receive billions of Naira of monthly allocations from the Federation accounts, which they spend like personal entitlements, uncontrollably and unaccounted for. The state governors , with no one looking over their shoulders loot and loot and loot the public treasury. The former governor of my state (Rivers) Dr. Peter Odili was alleged by the country’s anti-corruption body, the Economic and Financial Crime Commission ,EFCC, to have stolen over two hundred billion Naira ( some $2 billion). However, today he remains a free man, as he has not been charged more than three years out of office and after his indictment. The state governors deploy their loots into recruiting and arming militias and hit squads which they use to consolidate their stranglehold on power. During the Obasanjo regime a study revealed that almost all the state governors had hit squads. And assassination of political opponents was rampant. This trend is continuing post Obasanjo regime. With the approach of the general elections, coming up next month, the PDP killer squads have gone berserk.
The Economist, November14, 2009 vividly portrayed the bandits in government houses called state governors this way: “ Some of the governors in the oil-rich Niger delta command budgets bigger than entire west African countries, yet traditionally, after they have spent most of the money on their own helicopters, limousines, and Glorylands, together with gangs of hired thugs at election time, there is little left over for anything fancy like schools or hospitals”.
The biggest thieves in Nigeria today are the state governors. The EFCC is a huge joke. Of the 36 states thieving governors during the Obasanjo regime, only three of them have been prosecuted. What is even intriguing about the feebleness of the EFCC is that all the three governors who have been arrested were only arrested in Britain, (outside Nigeria) for money laundry. Their administrations also witnessed multiple cases of unresolved killings of political opponents and gross violations of human rights.
Politicians, the world over are prone to abuse of office. However, the difference in the case with Nigeria is impunity. In the United States, for instance, corrupt politicians are sent to jail and denied further ascent to political power. In China corrupt public office holders are executed. But in Nigeria they are recycled back into the system where they use their loots to further circumvent the democratic process. Those in position of authority are not held accountable. Any bandit that rigs his way into power ends up turning the public treasury into a private gold mine. What is called government in Nigeria is characterized by free-for-all looting of the national treasury.
In any case, I have an utmost confidence in the ability of President Jonathan to win the forthcoming presidential election fair and square. For one, he looks genuine and innocent and both the Nigerian peoples and the international community believe in him. They are ready to give him a chance , as he has shown flashes of reforms. However, my fear is that the desperate state governors who are addicted to election rigging and treasury looting are going to ruin day. They are going to rig, needlessly, in their states, and the national election is the aggregate of what comes from the states. So in the final analysis it would appear as if the president has rigged to win. It does not matter that President Jonathan has warned that no one should rig the election for him. It is possible that President Goodluck Jonathan is determined to conduct a credible election in Nigeria but unfortunately, he is not the one who is going to call the shots. Not even a reformed INEC headed by an activist college professor, Attahiru Jiga, would be in control of the general elections. Professor Jiga could easily be frustrated at the states level by the Resident Electoral Commissioners who are likely to be compromised by the corrupt governors. As revealed by former governor Donald Duke, it is the state governors who are actually in charge of the elections .And no matter what President Jonathan thinks or says they are determined to rig, like they have demonstrated during the primaries. So the ability of President Jonathan to keep his pledge of presiding over a credible election depends on how much he can tame the hydra-headed monsters called governors.
All said, Nigerians like me, desirous of meaningful change may have to look beyond periodic “elections”. Even as innocent and credible as President Jonathan appears, he is incapable of delivering real changes. The system within which he is operating is inherently and fundamentally flawed. The platform (the PDP) on which President Jonathan stands has been stained beyond redemption. This is a political party that in real operation looks like a criminal gang. They have , I am told, sworn to rule Nigeria for 60 years. They may also run the country into perpetuity, sometimes under another name. They would always regroup under different names- as it was from NPN to NRC, to PDP. Only a peoples revolution, something similar to what is presently sweeping across the Arab world which can usher in real reforms. Maybe, it is this realization that prompted renowned legal scholar and former Education Secretary, Professor Ben Nwabueze on the eve of the forthcoming general elections, to call for a revolution in the country.
However, as we await our turn for a real change in Nigeria, President Jonathan, his platform notwithstanding, remains the most viable option in moving the country in that direction.